Sunday, January 30, 2011

Introducing: Gay Gospel Doctrine Class

Welcome, class.  This is a first attempt at an online gay Gospel Doctrine class, one that can be attended in one’s pajamas or, um, boxers if one wishes.  No probs. 

During these past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Wes Hempel’s approach to “gay revisionist art” that was discussed in last Tuesday’s post.  He spoke of creating a space through his art where, rather than being vilified and excluded, gays are accepted and celebrated.  In a similar vein, I wondered, at the conclusion of my post, what Mormonism would look like today if gays and lesbians were acknowledged, embraced, valued and loved in their various wards and branches just as they were, rather than rejected and “erased.”

As I pondered over this concept and exchanged some thoughts with a friend, it occurred to me that there are things that we gay Mormons can do to create our own gay Mormon experience, and that one these things might be to try the concept of an online Gay Gospel Doctrine Class, based loosely on the subject of each week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson and presenting it in a way that somehow embraces or addresses one or more aspects of our life as gay men and women.  (For those reading this who may not be members of the LDS Church, Gospel Doctrine is the main Sunday School class for adults that is held each week in every Mormon congregation throughout the world.  The Church produces a manual that contains the subject of each week’s lesson, and each year, a different work of scripture is studied.  This year, the topic of study is the New Testament.)

So, here goes!  I’m going to kick this off by starting with Lesson 5, which addresses Jesus’ encounters with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well (though I’ll be focusing on the latter).  I hope I will have lots of class participation through comments.  I’d like to see this be as interactive as possible.

I’m tentatively planning to publish a post in this series every Sunday and would welcome guest posts.  If anyone wants to volunteer to “teach” an upcoming lesson, please either send me an e-mail at or a Facebook message.  Needless to say, the rules that apply to GD class as taught at church won’t apply here.  You can write whatever you want to, use whatever resources you want to, present any thoughts and ideas that you want to.  Freedom!  If you want to use a Broadway song to illustrate a point in your lesson, go for it!  If you want to use artwork from the “secular” world, terrific!  If you want to use a translation of the Bible other than the King James Version, please do!  This will be Gospel Doctrine lessons for us, by us. 

So, here goes …

And he must needs go through Samaria

Thus wrote John (4:4), commenting on Jesus’ decision to leave Judea and go to Galilee.  Judea is in central Palestine, whereas Galilee is in the north.  In between the two lay Samaria, as illustrated by this map.

Now, most Jews who traveled from Judea to Galilee, or visa versa, crossed the Jordan River and traveled on the east bank of this river so as to be able to avoid travelling through Samaria.  Why?  Because the Jews couldn’t stand the Samaritans. 

From the LDS Bible Dictionary, we read:  “[The word Samaritan] is used to describe the people who inhabited Samaria after the captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were the descendants of (1) foreign colonists placed there by kings of Assyria and Babylonia, and (2) Israelites who escaped at the time of the captivity. The population was therefore partly Israelite and partly gentile. Their religion was also of a mixed character, though they claimed, as worshippers of Jehovah, to have a share in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. This claim not being allowed, they became, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show, bitter opponents of the Jews, and started a rival temple of their own on Mount Gerizim. When Nehemiah ejected from Jerusalem a grandson of the high priest Eliashib on account of his marriage with a heathen woman, he took refuge with the Samaritans, taking with him a copy of the Pentateuch, and according to Josephus became high priest at Gerizim.”

The Samaritans received as divine the five books of Moses, but not the historical or prophetic books written by the Jews. During the first century, the religion of the Samaritans was similar to that of the Jews, except that they were more liberal—more kindred spirits of the Sadducees, for example, than the Pharisees. They accepted the Pentateuch, observed certain Jewish feasts, and longed for the coming Messiah.

Jews and Samaritans regarded each other with much more dislike than either of them did the idolatrous nations by which they were surrounded.  Edersheim quotes a Jewish saying: “May I never set eyes on a Samaritan”.  To the orthodox Jew of the time, a Samaritan was more unclean than a Gentile of any other nationality.  The testimony of a Samaritan could not be heard before a Jewish tribunal.  For a Jew to eat food prepared by a Samaritan was at one time regarded by rabbinical authority as an offense as great as that of eating the flesh of swine. The rabbis taught:  “Let no Israelite eat one mouthful of any thing that is a Samaritan’s; for if he eat but a little mouthful, he is as if he ate swine’s flesh”

So, Jesus apparently made a conscious decision to travel through Samaria on his way to Galilee:  “it must needs be.”

For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans

As Jesus and his disciples approached Sychar in Samaria, he sent the disciples into the city to buy food.  This in itself was contrary to Jewish law and custom and must have made an impression upon the disciples.

Jesus, meanwhile, proceeded to Jacob’s well, near Sychar, to rest.  While there, a lone woman approached the well to draw water, whereupon Jesus asked her for a drink.  To do so was a flagrant violation of Jewish law and custom, as there was a strong prohibition on public discourse between men and women.  A Hebrew man did not talk with women in the street — not even with his mother, sister, daughter or wife, and according to the most liberal view of Deuteronomy 24:1, a Hebrew husband could divorce his wife if she was found “familiarly talking with men.”

So, before even getting into the story of the “woman at the well,” we find that Jesus has defied Jewish custom and law in at least three ways:  (i) by travelling through Samaria instead of around it; (ii) by sending his disciples to buy food prepared by Samaritans; and (iii) by initiating a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.

At this point, we could pause to ask several questions, such as the following: 

- What does this defiance of law and custom reveal about Jesus?

- Who are some “Samaritans” in today’s world?

- What are some metaphorical Samarias?

Our Gay Samaria

Among other possible answers to this last question, I would like to suggest that we gay Mormons live in a metaphorical Samaria.  We are latter-day Samaritans who are considered “unclean” by most conventional Mormons, and most members of the Church would rather travel around us than be forced to associate with us.  But just as was the case with the Biblical Samaritans, Jesus is not afraid to come into our midst, even if it means defying law and custom; indeed, He wants to come; it is His mission to do so.  He is unconcerned with convention if it prevents Him from reaching out to those who need His ministrations.

He comes to us, even when we don’t expect Him

      9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan [and a] woman, for a drink?--For the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans--
    10 Jesus answered her, If you had only known and had recognized God's gift and Who this is that is saying to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him [instead] and He would have given you living water.*

            *Biblical passages taken from the Amplified Bible unless otherwise indicated.

As I read this passage, I was struck with this thought:  The Samaritan woman did not expect Jesus to talk to her for at least two reasons, i.e., because she was a woman and because she was a Samaritan. Yet he did so.  In like manner, how many times have many of us felt that God could not possibly accept us as we are – gay – only to discover, when we finally allow ourselves to actually ask the question, that God accepts us as we are.  If we had only known and had asked, “He would have given [us] living water.”

Go, Call Your Husband

After an initial exchange with the woman, Jesus decides to take their conversation to another level.  He knows the woman is a “sinner.”  But He does not denounce her; even in demonstrating his divine gift of discernment, He does not mention her “sin”, but simply asks her to do something, knowing that this will bring the issue to the surface:

16  At this, Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband and come back here.
17 The woman answered, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have spoken truly in saying, I have no husband.
18  For you have had five husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband. In this you have spoken truly.
19  The woman said to Him, Sir, I see and understand that You are a prophet.

Jesus’ apparent goal was achieved.  He did not denounce her or point out her “sin” in order to berate or chastise her; rather, He exhibited his God-like power of discernment so that this “sinner” could in turn discern that He was in fact the Messiah.  In fact, in this entire account, Jesus at no point condemns the woman.  He proclaims; she responds. 

25  The woman said to Him, I know that Messiah is coming, He Who is called the Christ (the Anointed One); and when He arrives, He will tell us everything we need to know and make it clear to us.
26  Jesus said to her, I Who now speak with you am He.
28  Then the woman left her water jar and went away to the town. And she began telling the people,
29  Come, see a Man Who has told me everything that I ever did! Can this be [is not this] the Christ? [Must not this be the Messiah, the Anointed One?]

Is there not a lesson in this for us?  Christ does not seek to condemn us; He seeks to reveal Himself to us.  He proclaims; we respond.

Coming Out as the Messiah

Another way in which this whole story of the woman at the well is amazing is that Jesus chose to “come out” as the Messiah in Samaria to a Samaritan woman.  I like the following commentary here by April O’Flaherty: 

“I could not help but notice that Jesus spoke to this woman not as an underling or a servant, but as another human being, of equal value to men and Jews. He could have, and by all cultural rights should have, treated her with disdain or simply ignored her altogether. He chose not to do either, but instead went the proverbial extra mile to meet with her at the well where He made His first real claim to be Messiah - to a woman. A Samaritan woman. A Samaritan woman with a rather sordid past and present.

“Is this not amazing? Is it not radical? It was a staggering a thing for the Jewish Rabbi to treat a woman as though she were worthy of such incredible compassion and to share with her an important spiritual message. This point is driven home by the reaction of Jesus' disciples when they return and find Him engaged in such a serious spiritual discussion with "the woman." [Verse 27: Just then His disciples came and they wondered (were surprised, astonished) to find Him talking with a woman [a married woman]. However, not one of them asked Him, What are You inquiring about? or What do You want? or, Why do You speak with her?] …

“As I read the story of the Samaritan Woman, I found myself wondering what it was that drew Jesus to her. He sought her out; this was not a case of some lost soul chasing after Jesus for help or forgiveness. He sat at Jacob's Well and waited for her to come for water, knowing that she would. Her human neighbors did not want to be seen near her, but the Son of God went out of his way (literally) to spend time with her."

The concept of this being the first time that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah was new to me.  I had not previously made this connection.  But beyond that, I don't think I've every really imagined what it must have been like for him to carry that secret within him, not telling anyone (of which we have record) until that day in Samaria, and even then keeping that knowledge confined to only a few people.  We of all people know what it is like to carry a huge secret about ourselves, and we can therefore relate - albeit in a small, human, imperfect way - to what it felt like to the Savior to be honest and open with the Samaritan woman about who he was.

They besought him that He would tarry

As it turned out, after Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, she ran and told her fellow villagers about Jesus.  Many of the Samaritans believed on him, and they “besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days, and many more believed.”  I love that word “besought” which is the past tense of the word “beseech.” The Samaritans, in effect, pleaded for Jesus to stay with and teach them. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have a record of what was taught during those two days. Jesus had told his disciples while still sitting at Jacob’s Well that the “field was white, ready to be harvested” (John 4:35), and indeed such was the case among this mongrel group of people whom Jesus’ own people despised.  Many people believed on Jesus and later, in the Book of Acts, we learn that the early apostles experienced great success in spreading the Gospel among the villages of Samaria.

Tender Mercies

In conclusion, I would like to share a song called “Tender Mercies,” performed by Shane Jackman. I had hoped to present a slide show, but my Windows Movie Maker isn't working the way it should.  I also apologize for the audio quality.  Nevertheless, and despite of these drawbacks, I wanted to include this song because I feel it captures the essence of today’s lesson – of Jesus coming to us in our Samarias, revealing Himself and offering living water.  

I hope you enjoyed the “lesson” and that you will share your comments.


  1. Now I can make greater connections to what the Savior truly offered. Now I can make a stronger case to what us MoHos can truly become. With His love. And for us putting down our judging stick. And allowing Him to come unto us. I am calling this period my winter reconceptualizations. So that I might step into spring awakenings.

  2. Best question from this week's leasson manual:

    "How can we overcome discouragement or setbacks in [or barriers to] our spiritual progress?"

    Words in the bracket are added by me for the purposes of this discussion.

  3. Interesting idea to create an online Gospel Doctrine course addressing gay issues. I hope you'll excuse me if I approach preparation for the class the same as I did while attending church, by not reading the manual. ;)

    As for using a broadway song to illustrate your suggestion that "God accepts us as we are", here is a link for the song "As I Am" from "The Big Gay Musical":

  4. I have long held on to the hope of a "gay" Gospel Doctrine class. Thank you, Invictus, for its inception. And, for all of the work you have gone to to present these ideas and commentary. I love the idea of the Savior revealing himself to us. And, love the idea of him revealing US to ourselves. I have had both experiences and they have saved my life, literally.

    (I just had the telly on and interestingly enough, they were talking about the Cardston Temple in Canada. This scene, the Savior with the Samaritan woman, is one of the scenes depicted on the side of the temple.)

    As Christians, is not our whole endeavor to become like the Savior? If the Savior shows love and compassion for all, does it not behoove us to seek to do the same, to offer love and compassion to all? ESPECIALLY to those whom may feel unaccepted, unloved, and judged by others in their very own communities, i.e., the Church, for example?

    Recently, I posted on my blog what I like to call an anthem for all MoHos- it is a song written by Michael McLean called "Safe Harbors". He came to our school several years back and presented about the need to show love for those around us. He talked about how he had been at the local grocery store, in Park City, and saw a woman in the grocery line whose son had recently committed suicide. That was the impetus for this song. To extend the meaning even further, I love that the Savior is MY Safe harbor, to where I can ALWAYS go when I am sad, tired, hurt, in need of warm arms, and I hope to be, in turn, a Safe Harbor for others.

  5. @Martin - Beautiful. Reminds me of one of my favorite songs, "The Rose".

    @Mister Curie - Can I interpret your comment about the manual as an offer to take a lesson? :-)
    Thanks so much for the link. Love it! Powerful.

    @This Blog Author - Thanks so much for your comments. Yes! The Savior reveals not only himself to us, but us to ourselves. (Because we see only through a glass darkly and refuse sometimes to accept what we see as "acceptable".) Thanks so much for the story of "Safe Harbors". SO MUCH could be done with that song in the context of gays in the Church. I'll throw that challenge out there ...

  6. I agree with you that SO much could be done with that song. I asked Jonathan, our resident film maker, if he had ever thought about making a gay/Church friendly movie. And, in my mind, I was hoping he would use "safe harbors" for the movie's theme.

  7. I hope in your real class you spent some time on whether or not we as a church have our own dedicated Samaritans/Samaria. Frankly, I fear we do, and I am one.

  8. @Joe - I did ask the question, but all I could see were blank faces, and I since I was pressed for time, I didn't pursue it. Ok. Ok. I could have pursued it, but I think by that point in the lesson I had already set off some people's false doctrine (i.e., uncomfortably close to reality) radar.

  9. This was great! I am not LDS, but I do love Jesus, and this is a powerful reminder for anyone who considers themselves Christ followers. Thanks for all of the time you obviously put into this IP. It was definitely appreciated. This was my perfect end to a very blessed day!

  10. @Kevin - I'm so glad you enjoyed the lesson. Though there will obviously be Mormon overtones in the upcoming lessons, there is much that should be (hopefully) meaningful and applicable to gays who are not (nor never have been) LDS. And thanks for your message of appreciation. It's always nice to hear that. :)

  11. IP, the whole concept of this 'class', as well as the lesson itself, is greatly appreciated. Unlike my Sunday School lesson at church yesterday, I actually learned from and pondered upon new ideas that have meaning for me. My wife also follows your blog, and she directed me to your post. Thanks again for all you do in expanding our circle and including some many friends to the table.

  12. @GeckoMan - I am so pleased that this concept is welcomed, and I am even more pleased that there were things about this lesson that spoke to you. I look forward to future lessons, as others will different talents and approaches and viewpoints assist in preparation of lessons and those who read the lessons add their insights.

  13. I apologize for showing up late for class. (Just found this brilliant blog this morning). Anyway, Kudos to you for this great idea and terrific venue to discuss gospel matters.

    Just one comment. Many of us Mormons are still stuck in a rigid "lesser law" like Moses' time. We see things as black and white and when people or actions can't fit neatly into doctrinal principles, then they must not be of righteous origin and should be shunned. Although I am out, I still find myself worrying about my place in God's kingdom and in the church. Thank you very much for reminding me that Christ doesn't put me into a labelled category, but loves me and supports me, and wants to help us all realize we are all plainly and simply children of God.

  14. @thunter - Welcome to class! One is never too late to join this class, and I hope others whom the class may benefit will also find it.

    I hear loud and clear what you are saying about being stuck in the black and white zone. The thoughts you have expressed are precisely why I thought this series might be useful. As you have pointed out, I think the only label God puts on us is "son" or "daughter."